‘Blood of God!’ Chioma blurted out. ‘Are you serious or have you started pulling my legs again?’ Her face had a quizzing look.
Nneka simply closed her eyes and turned her head to the right before reopening her eyes, all in a swift manner.
Chioma continued. ‘Talk to me now. Why are you leaving me hanging?’
‘So you actually think that I’d joke with this kind of a thing? Me, of all people?,’ retorted Nneka.
Chioma let out a tiny giggle.
‘Oh, so it is now funny, eh kwa?’
‘No oh, not at all. Don’t eat me up, eh. Its just that what you just told me now is too surprising.’ Chioma still had a mischievous smile which enveloped her chocolate-coloured face.
Nneka didn’t reply. Instead, she looked out of the adjacent window and saw a short black boy with a small brown tray filled with plantain chips packaged in transparent nylon bags. In campus, snacks was the fastest and easiest means of satisfying hunger. Hawkers dominated the entire walkways. At times, it would seem like the school was meant for the little children and older women, who went about from sunrise to sun down, selling egg rolls and popcorns and sachets of water. Chioma had always joked about it, describing it as an economic problem where there were too many sellers and little buyers.
Her bosom friend, Nneka would often rebuke her saying, ‘ I don’t know why you are very wicked, eh. Don’t you want these people to survive? Or are you not aware of the fact that most of the women have no jobs and the little boys and girls can’t afford education?’
They would go on and on until Nneka would end up buying either udara fruits or cashew nuts from one of the hawkers. Chioma preferred eating at the cafeteria.
‘How much is this one?’ Nneka asked, pointing at a tiny wrap of chips which had a clay colour. The short black boy who bore the tray of chips lowered it down onto the long desk in front of her. He wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his right hand before removing the wrangled piece of cotton wrapper he used as a wedge for his tray from his head. He looked too young, perhaps he would have been six years or thereabout.
‘Aunty, it is fifty fifty naira,’ he mumbled hoarsely.
‘Oya, give me that one, ‘ replied Nneka, pointing at another wrap closed to the centre of the tray. The little boy subsequently handed it over to her, collected the neat fifty naira note which Nneka brought out from her purse, before he turned to leave the lecture room, his tray on his head.
‘So you didn’t even ask me if I wanted to eat?,’ asked Chioma. All long, she had sat quietly watching as the chips sale took place in her presence.
Nneka ignored the question. ‘Listen to me, my dear. Whether you believe it or not, my Chidozie has proposed to me. I was even thinking you’d be happy for me. Aren’t you my friend again?’
Chioma’s eyeballs seemed to bulge out of her eye sockets. ‘Happy for you? Did you just listen to yourself?’
‘What is wrong with what I have said now, eh? I love my Chidozie and he equally loves me back. Or is love not enough?’
‘I can see you’ve finally gone nuts. Are you not even ashamed to tell me this? Look at you. You are referring to another woman’s husband as ‘my Chidozie’. Do you even think your father would allow this?’
Nneka’s father was a deacon in Sacred Heart Parish.
‘I can’t even believe that you, Nne baby, would condescend so low as to agree to be a second wi..’
‘Eh ? See don’t even go there, you hear me?,’ cut in Nneka. ‘Don’t judge me oh. What do you expect me to do? Exams are fast approaching and I haven’t paid my fees. You know what that means.’
‘I know now, but I can always help you with some money,’ replied Chioma in a low tune. She could sense a rising anger in the tone of her friend’s voice.
‘Oh, so you want to be my mother now, eh? You think I’ve not heard how you’ve been going around telling people that you’ve been sustaining me in school, eh? Now that someone who has promised to take care of my education and even repair my father’s falling house wants to marry me, you are unsupportive. You are..’
‘Wait, it has not come to this. I was only trying..’
‘Trying to do what? Eh? Trying to do what?,’ entered Nneka. She was now standing up, putting her untouched chips into her black handbag. She continued, ‘Whether my father is a pope or not, I would marry my Chidozie. This silver lining in my coal-black clouds wouldn’t disappear. Not even you, my friend can change my mind.’
Chioma was clearly flabbergasted. Words became superfluous at the moment as Nneka was clearly heated up. She unconsciously leaned back on the brown bench and watched as Nneka grudgingly brushed her knees as she passed her, heading for the exit. It was only when her phone rang few minutes later, that her momentary state of shock was broken.